IT COMES AT NIGHT
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Screenwriter: Trey Edward Shults
Runtime: 91 mins.
Australian release date: 6 July 2017
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 3 July 2017.
Trey Edward Shults’s sophomore movie, It Comes At Night, is a clever, contained, claustrophobic work that starts with a jolt. An elderly, bed-ridden man lies obviously dying, covered in sores and ulcers, being tended to by people wearing breathing apparatus, sealing them off from him and us. Consequently their speech is muddied and muffled, making comprehension difficult. It’s an ingenious device because it adds to our confusion when the scene plays out to its terrible conclusion. You’re hooked!
Once indoors the masks are removed, revealing the stricken faces of a mixed-race family, dad Paul (the consistently good Joel Edgerton), mum Sarah (Selma’s Carmen Ojogo), and 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and the old man was Sarah’s father. Shults’s economic script lays out the sketchy details of how they arrived in this parlous situation and we realise that some sort of catastrophic 'event' has taken place and they've holed up in their country home for protection. From what we’re not sure but, ominously, a poster of Bruegel the Elder’s 16th century painting The Triumph of Death hangs on the wall of Travis’s bedroom. The image captures the terror of the Black Death and the indiscriminate way it cut people down. Is this a reflection of a similar Plague raging outside their safe-haven? The arrival of a stranger (Christopher Abbott) throws the household into chaos and confusion: is he infected, are there others on the way, why has he come? These suspicions, once released from the genie’s grasp, are hard to put back into the proverbial lamp.
It Comes At Night posits a set-up that brings Cormack McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel The Road to mind but Shults maintains he hasn't read it. In any event, his screenplay has its protagonists take a different approach to McCarthy’s. They hunker down rather than trying to outrun the ‘It’ of the movie’s title. The tension builds to a pitch as Paul becomes more and more paranoid (or is he just being super-careful?) and niggling doubts soon turn into nagging fears. Joel is persuasive as the harried Paul, who was a history teacher before the ‘event’, so not exactly ready for his new role as uber-protector of the family. There are hints though that the family may have been prepared for something like this - they have a pretty impressive water distilling set-up in the basement… and plenty of guns. Brian McOmber’s percussive score is a treat, especially in a scene where Paul has to leave the relative safety of their rural compound. It’ll have your heart beating in time to the music! Judging by the talent on display in It Comes At Night, Trey Edward Shults is a man to watch - he not only directed and wrote this film, he co-edited it as well. It’s a highly impressive achievement.